Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Theatre Exile
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's recent reviews of Songs for Nobodies, Jesus Christ Superstar, Plum Bun

Jared Chichester, Brenson Thomas,
and Melanye Finister

Photo by Paola Nogueras
Theatre Exile is currently staging the world premiere of Abandon by Philadelphia-based playwright James Ijames. In 2022 James Ijames won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his modern comedic take on Hamlet Fat Ham, so expectations for his newest play are sky high. Abandon is every bit as ambitious as Fat Ham and, thanks to its intriguing characters, provocative story, and talented cast, Abandon exceeded my elevated expectations. The play's gritty depictions of distressing human behavior, emotional abuse, and domestic violence will likely make this work too intense for some theatregoers. For the rest of us, Ijames's unflinching honesty and bold authenticity make Abandon a powerfully moving experience.

The ensemble includes some of Philadelphia's brightest stars, and every actor brings their best to this compelling new drama. Melanye Finister plays Luella, an independent, no-nonsense, tough-as-nails senior living alone. Well, not entirely alone–Luella is often visited by the ghost of her adult son Gabriel, played with a gentle passion by Brenson Thomas. Finister and Thomas have played mother and son before, and the depth of their connection is tangible.

Luella's compassionate soul comes to the surface when a man named Joshua steals her purse and breaks into her home. Dangerous and vulnerable as a wounded animal, Jared Chichester gives an utterly captivating performance as young Joshua, who explains that he has no place else to shelter from the cold. Instead of a bash on the head, Luella gives Joshua a hot meal and some good old fashioned compassion.

Sara Outing's clever and evocative set design connects Luella's small, tidy kitchen to the cramped living room of Joshua's older brother Chris. There is authentic desperation and brutality in Carlo Campbell's portrayal of Chris. Even just sitting on the couch drinking a beer, Campbell evokes a tense anxiety.

The sense of tension is heightened by Amanda Jensen's excellent lighting and Elizabeth Atkinson's subtle but effective sound designs. When things turn really dark, J. Alex Cordaro's fight choreography is some of the best and most ferocious I have ever seen.

Thought-provoking, deeply moving, and more than a little disturbing, Abandon addresses the pain of loss, the meaning of fear, and the healing power of connection. It is a beautiful drama that speaks to the very soul of all humanity. Once again, James Ijames is making Philadelphia proud.

Abandon runs through May 21, 2023, at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit or call 215-218-4022.

Carlo Campbell: Chris
Melanye Finister: Luella
Joshua E. Neslon: Joshua
Brenson Thomas: Gabriel

Director: Brett Ashley Robinson
Set Designer: Sara Outing
Sound Designer: Elizabeth Atkinson
Dramaturg: Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon
Costume Designer: Jill Keys
Lighting Designer: Amanda Jensen
Fight Choreographer: J. Alex Cordaro
Props Designer: Miranda Thompson
Stage Manager: Melody Wong